Foster home shortage leaves kids sleeping in agency offices

Montgomery County Children Services Haines Center
Montgomery County Children Services Haines Center

Difficulty finding foster homes has forced Montgomery County Children Services to house children overnight in the agency’s offices — a practice criticized in other counties, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

Montgomery County officials say a 13-year-old boy slept at the agency overnight on June 22 and a 16-year-old did on June 25. Each was supervised by two staff members through the night, officials said.

“Our caseworkers show great passion, flexibility, resourcefulness and selflessness in serving the families of Montgomery County,” said Jewell Good, assistant director for Montgomery County Children Services.

“We are very fortunate in that we have not had to resort to kids staying at the agency more than a couple times in recent years. This is a very difficult budget cycle for us, as our placement costs have already exceeded costs for 2019,” she said.

ExploreTimeline of Dayton Daily News coverage of children services controversy

The agency said these are the only two kids who have slept in its offices in four years.

The Dayton Daily News asked Montgomery County Children Services about children living in agency offices after a state lawmaker called for reforms following reports that children in Cleveland were housed in agency headquarters there for weeks.

Montgomery County Children Services spokesman Kevin Lavoie said in a statement that a contributing factor to having to house these kids at the agency was that they “have exhibited delinquent behaviors, including violence and sex crimes, as well as behavioral health concerns.”

Lavoie said they tried to place the two children in foster homes, group homes and residential facilities across Ohio but couldn’t find a place that would take them. Montgomery County Juvenile Court was unable to detain the children. Dayton Children’s Hospital did not admit them.

ExploreWhy experts are worried about steep decline in child abuse reports

“It is important to note that COVID-19 has also impacted placement settings, because facilities are either not accepting new intakes, or they have had someone test positive for COVID-19 and are under quarantine,” he said.

He said the agency provided cots and blankets for the kids who slept in their offices. They have TVs to watch. Children are fed snacks and workers can use gift cards to buy the children meals.

The number of kids in Children Services custody — including foster care, kinship care or congregate care — has increased steadily in recent months, according to state data. On Feb. 1, there were 16,380 children in custody, including 623 in Montgomery County. On June 1, there were 16,846 in Ohio and 682 in Montgomery County.

The Children’s Defense Fund Ohio issued a statement recently saying that housing children for even one night in Children Services’ offices is “unacceptable.”

ExploreChildren Services: Governor-ordered review finds shortfalls

“We have heard that this is a practice agencies use as a last resort to house a child when all other placements fall through, but that is treated as a last resort because we know that it is traumatic and harmful for children,” defense fund Executive Director Tracy Najera said. “However, the extent of this practice is unknown and having this information could reveal additional placement capacity needed within the system.”

She said the state should immediately start tracking how often this occurs and make changes to improve recruitment and retention of foster care and therapeutic placement. State and federal lawmakers should protect child welfare funding, Najera said.

Legislation unanimously passed the Ohio House last month that aims to increase the number of foster caregivers by streamlining training requirements. The bill, House Bill 8, is pending in the Ohio Senate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Susan Manchester, R-Waynsfield, issued a statement after the Cleveland news report saying it, “just underscores the need for reforms in Ohio so we have more foster caregivers. Every child deserves a stable, caring home. Let’s make sure this never happens again.”